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Easily choose art with Easely

Pandora picks music, OkCupid gives okay dating suggestions and now, Pittsburgh-based start-up Easely will predict which art you will like.

The art vending website was devised after co-founder and CEO Ashwin Muthiah saw how difficult it was for his girlfriend to make ends meet as an artist. He decided to use his computer science background to attack the problem, and came up with a business that will launch this month. Easely uses visual and textual questionnaires to determine which artworks to send to which users in a process that is part data, part psychology and part gut instinct, according to Muthiah.

Users must tell Easely how much space they have to devote to a work of art and can also let the website know which color palate they prefer. Like the popular glasses website Warby Parker, Easely then lets users try until they buy, mailing ready to hang artwork to your door. "If you don't like what we send you, we’ll go back to the drawing board, literally" Muthiah says.

His goal is to "reinvigorate the social prominence of art" and make it as easy to purchase as other media, which can be obtained by the click of a button.

"A lot of people out there who love art don’t know how to get it or have tons of money to get it," Muthiah says, offering up his site as a solution to the problem.

The art available on Easely is nowhere near as expensive as art purchased through most galleries, giving it a broader appeal. It's Muthiah's hope that by making art accessible, new artists will be able to support themselves and find a market for their work. The website accepts submissions from artists and uses a team of curators to asses the work accepted into its collection. Artists earn 25 percent commission if the work sells.

"I see a lot of young artists turned away from art based upon the market," Muthiah says, explaining why he pays above average comission to artists, "we want to get everyone reengaged with artwork."
 
Fun Fact: Muthiah came to Pittsburgh from Atlanta to join AlphaLab, our friendly neighborhood startup accelerator. He says he will be hiring a software engineer and a business development person soon.

Emplified takes the guesswork out of employee retention

Right now the workforce is experiencing a major shift as baby boomers begin to retire and Millennials move in. With this shift comes a disconnect between traditional top-down management and employees, which has led to turnover and lost productivity across the board. Pittsburgh-based startup Emplified is breaking on to the scene with its employee-led retention solution for businesses that brings workforce engagement into the modern era.
 
“There’s a huge disengagement in the marketplace,” says Emplified founder and CEO Alex Gindin. “Only 30 percent of employees in the knowledge workforce are actively engaged in the market. The largest portion of disengagement belongs to Millennials right now because companies don’t know how to work with them.”
 
Gindin founded Emplified on the belief that workforce engagement is not something that can be delegated from the top-down through surveys and periodic performance reviews. 
 
“[Workforce engagement] must be cultivated and nurtured from within the organization and driven from the bottom up,” says Gindin. “It needs to show the context and impact of individual efforts on the organization and clearly reinforce individual career paths. This is where Emplified comes in. We elevate employees above their routine for a few moments each day in order to let them capture and curate their professional development, business impact, personal accomplishments and individual needs.”
 
This seems like a tall order, bur Emplified provides this service through its secure online platform and facilitates regular dialogue with individual employees to uncover critical blind spots, navigate career paths and help them take control of their employment.
 
“We empower employees to manage up by amplifying their skills, accomplishments and needs and provide managers with critical insights needed to grow, shape and retain their people,” says Gindin.
 
Emplified is looking to work with companies in the small-medium business market in high volatility turnover fields like technology, sales, marketing and advertising.
 
“Most of those companies don’t have HR capabilities themselves, or if they do, HR is not their core expertise or core competency,” says Gindin.
 
Gindin first had the idea for Emplified about seven years ago when he managed a team of employees at Morgan Stanley in New York. As a young manager, he says it was hard to understand what his employees actually wanted in an economy where it was difficult to retain talent.
 
Using a model that employs a framework rooted in cognitive psychology, Emplified elevates people above their day-to-day routines or workloads to give them a perspective of where they actually are, where they are heading and their progress toward getting there.
 
As the former director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Pantherlab Works in the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, Gindin has solid experience launching products and technologies and bringing them to the marketplace. Emplified recently completed its alpha phase and is streamlining the platform and addressing scalability this summer with plans to release a full-featured version in September.

Locally created, handsfree smartphone mounts rival GoPro

David Rost lives an active lifestyle and like many others in this digital age, he enjoys documenting his adventures and sharing them with friends and family via social media. The problem is that with hands tied up holding cameras and other technology, it can be difficult to fully enjoy the experience.
 
Several years ago, he was skiing in Colorado and wanted to film the beauty of the landscape for his kids. Not interested in spending $300-400 on a GoPro, he opted to use his iphone 4, holding the phone in his hand while skiing. This gave him the idea to develop something that would allow him to use his devices handsfree. Using elastic, clips, a few cases and his smartphone, he developed an early prototype for a chest harness. Since then, Rost launched a successful Kickstarter campaign that raised nearly $28,000 and developed a variety of mounts under the name READYACTION.
 
In addition to the chest harness, Pittsburgh-based READYACTION offers mounts for bike handles and ski poles, helmets and cars and motorcycles. And new to the collection is the "office" chest harness that allows for handsfree use of tablets, which would be useful for such professions as teachers and home inspectors, says Rost. All products are priced at $50 and under.

There are many everyday uses for the mounts, too. The ski pole and bike attachment can be used in the back of cars so kids can watch movies and the car and motorcycle mounts are perfect for using the GPS function on smartphones.
 
Rost says his products "are just making all your devices easier and more fun to use."
 
iPhone Life Magazine recently reviewed the READYACTION catalog of products and gave them a rating of four and a half stars out of five, praising the lightweight construction, easy on/off design, customizable brackets to fit any size smartphone, and secure fittings that hold devices safely in place, allowing for high-quality video footage.
 
Last week, READYACTION went from a provisional patent to patent pending in the United States and has an international patent pending as well.
 
"If we are able to get a patent on this marketplace, we will be a market leader and perhaps the only one in the market. That means we can license our products all over the world, country by country."
 
READYACTION products can be purchased through the company's website, and Rost is hoping to get them on the shelves of retailers in the not too distant future. 

Highlights from Demo Day

On Tuesday, a crowd of about 500 people flocked to see demos by the current cohort of companies at Alphalab, which was recently ranked the sixth best accelerator in the country. This Demo Day also marked the debut of Alphalab Gear, a hardware and robotic startup accelerator. For the first time, the event was held at Stage AE to accommodate the ever-growing crowd, a testament to the excitement and momentum surrounding Pittsburgh innovation.
 
With so much talent in Pittsburgh, it’s no wonder Illana Diamond, managing director of Alphalab Gear, says it’s the mentorship and extensive alumni network that make Alphalab/Alphalab Gear standout from their counterparts. Indeed, in a survey led by MIT professor Yael Hochberg, entrepreneurs ranked Alphalab third in the nation for general mentorship and industry-specific knowledge.
 
Both Alphalab and Alphalab Gear are part of Innovation Works, the region’s largest seed stage investor. Investing in and providing business assistance to high-potential seed and early-stage tech companies in the Pittsburgh region, Innovation Works has made a name for itself as one of the nation’s most active seed investors.
 
While Innovation Works is certainly a major player in the Pittsburgh innovation scene, the city as a whole continued to outpace national averages in the amount of venture dollars invested in regional companies from 2009-13, according to a report by Ernst and Young and Innovation Works that was released earlier this spring. The report also points to the growing number of successful company exits as proof of Pittsburgh’s success as a hub for innovation.
 
Read on for highlights from the Demo Day presentations.
 
Last year, the United States threw away 40 percent of its food supply. FreshTemp, an Alphalab Gear company, aims to eliminate waste by making it easy to monitor and manage the temperature of perishable goods across the entire supply chain. Cloud-based Freshtemp automates temperature collection during production, transportation, and the storage of any product via state-of-the-art Bluetooth devices. The company is already working with some big names in the food industry, including Wendy’s and Popeyes.
 
What’s lighter than aluminum and stronger than steel? Carbon fiber. Just one problem, until now, manufacturing carbon fiber products has been cost prohibitive to only the aerospace and automotive industries. That’s where Alphalab Gear’s RapidTPC comes in. RapidTPC has developed a proprietary manufacturing process that enables consumer markets to automate the mass production of parts from composite materials – reducing both initial capital costs and production costs by 90 percent. Replacing materials with composites can reduce the weight of a product by 50 percent. The company is already working with a baby product company and plans to expand into the sporting goods industry in the future.

CDL Warrior, an Alphalab company, is a mobile platform for commercial truck drivers and fleets. It saves truckers time and increases productivity through tools that simplify mandatory logs that keep drivers compliant, thus avoiding costly fees and lost time on the road. The app also has a feature to quickly facilitate resolutions to long wait times and other events that delay drivers while sending automated, real-time alerts to their dispatch.

Conversant Labs: Improving assistive technology for the visually impaired

Chris Maury’s vision has been on the decline since he was diagnosed with Stargardt macular degeneration in early 2011. The genetic eye disorder causes progressive vision loss, usually to the point of legal blindness. 

Shortly after his diagnosis, Maury left his job as product manager at Klout in San Francisco to develop accessibility technology for those who suffer from vision loss and impairment. In 2012, he founded Conversant Labs to improve the lives of the blind through improved access to technology. The following year, Maury moved the company to Pittsburgh. 

“While we are an accessibility company, our core technology is speech recognition and voice-enabled applications,” says Maury. “Carnegie Mellon is where a lot of the research in these fields was started, and being based here in Pittsburgh allows us to draw on that expertise.”

Conversant Labs builds audio-only applications for the blind and visually impaired. The company is one of the start-ups in the current cycle at AlphaLab, a leading accelerator in the country. In addition to Founder/CEO Maury, the Conversant Labs team includes Greg Nicholas, a software developer with a background in natural language processing and building applications for the accessibility industry, and Fran Kostella, who has 30 years of experience building alternative user interfaces 

“The tools currently available for the blind to interact with everyday technologies are severely limited,” says Maury.  “Expensive, difficult to learn, and not supported by many common services, these products leave the majority of the blind community without access to computers or the internet.”

Maury recently spoke at the 29th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference in San Diego. His talk focused on the limitations of traditional accessibility technology known as screen readers, which display web content visually for users on a monitor and convert text to synthesized speech so users can listen to the content.

“Screen readers are amazing tools for making computers and mobile devices minimally accessible, but the standard that we set for our tools should be much, much higher,” Maury says. “We should be creating applications and experiences that go beyond plain accessibility and focus instead on usability.”

“Our approach throws out the visual component, creating an audio-only experience optimized for blind users,” says Maury. “Using voice commands, users are able to complete tasks they might otherwise avoid.”

Conversant Lab’s first commercial application “Say: Shopping,” a voice-enabled shopping client for making online purchases that will allow blind users to shop independently.

“Shopping is one of these tasks that is difficult for the blind and visually impaired to do independently, often relying on others to go to the store for them,” says Maury. “Creating an experience that allows people to shop independently and from the comfort of their homes is a big win for improving quality of life.”

Say: Shopping is now in beta testing and will likely be released into the Apple App Store by the end of May. 

Writer: Amanda Leff Ritchie
Sources: Chris Maury, AlphaLab and conversantlabs.com

Pittsburgh Modular makes synthesizers used by musicians around the world

Richard Nicol is the creator and founder of Pittsburgh Modular, a synthesizer company that sells its music gear worldwide through about 25 dealers in the United States and a dozen more overseas. As a musician, Nicol has been fascinated with synths for many years and enjoys experimenting with them to produce new sounds. 

“You can create thousands of different worlds with the smallest turn of the knobs,” he says. 

About five years ago, Nicol took an advanced circuit building class at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts (PCA), where he met his instructor Michael Johnsen, who is now the “mad scientist” who designs the equipment that Nicol manufacturers and sells at Pittsburgh Modular. Johnsen still teaches analog circuit building classes at PCA, and is currently teaching a beginner level audio circuit course that covers such basics as soldering, construction, schematics and the idiosyncratic world of “circuit bending.”

Johnsen, who also teaches filmmaking to high school students, has nurtured a longterm interest in electronic music and the techniques that have been used to make it throughout the years. Helping people understand electronic music — all the way down to the circuit board — is practical knowledge to have in a very digital era, says Johnsen. 

Nicol began building handmade synthesizer modules in his basement as a hobby while working as a full-time software developer. Using bold components and dynamic layouts to promote interaction and experimentation, his creations resembled something built in a 1950s science fiction laboratory. It didn’t take long for people in the synth community to take notice and express interest in purchasing Nicol’s creations of modern analog circuitry, marking the birth of Pittsburgh Modular.

Pittsburgh Modular, which quickly outgrew Nicol’s basement, is headquartered in the former Mine Safety Appliance factory building, located at 201 North Braddock Ave. in Pittsburgh’s East End. 

Though Pittsburgh Modular is relatively young, there are some big names using its gear. Because the synths are sold through dealers, it’s not always possible to know who’s using them. But some of the big names they know of include Trent Reznor, Deadmau5 and Depeche Mode. 

In January, Pittsburgh Modular announced a full line of synthesizers and modular gear, which the company just began to ship. 

“Pittsburgh is a big music town — but it’s a rock ’n roll town,” says Nicol. “We weren’t sure how well [our synths] would sell in Pittsburgh.”

But to Nicol’s delight, Pittsburgh Modular gear is selling very well at its local dealer, Pianos N Stuff on Freeport Road.

“Pittsburgh is a great city to start a company,” says Nicol. “I don't think we could have built this company from ground zero to where we are now in most cities.”

The company also recently started Pittsburgh Modular Records and its first release was "Encryption Cypher,” a project with Herman Pearl (a.k.a. Soy Sos) of Tuff Sound Recording, who paired its synth sounds with remixed beats by Pittsburgh’s top hip-hop artists.  

Writer: Amanda Leff Ritchie
Sources: Richard Nicol & Michael Johnsen

A sense of play: Two Pittsburgh toy startups draw attention at national convention

It’s not easy to make a splash amid the more than 1,000 exhibitors at the American International Toy Fair, the giant trade show that ran earlier this month in New York City.
 
But two Pittsburgh startups, both launching highly innovative products marrying technology with play -- and both with connections to Carnegie Mellon and the AlphaLab accelerator -- drew a lot of buzz.

"This is definitely a David and Goliath story of startups grabbing attention from Hasbro, Disney, Leap Frog, etc.," says Terri Glueck of Pittsburgh's Innovation Works
 
PieceMaker Technologies is developing self-service, 3-D printing kiosks for toy stores. The "factory in a store" allows customers to personalize about 100 designs for toys, jewelry and other small gifts. Once they’ve designed their item, an employee produces it at the 3-D printing station in about 20 minutes. Suggested retail will range from $5 to $10.
 
Founded in 2013 by Carnegie Mellon engineering graduate students Arden Rosenblatt and Alejandro Sklar, Piecemaker is getting ready to test the concept at two Pittsburgh locations of S.W. Randall Toyes & Giftes this spring and plans an expanded, 10-store pilot for the holiday season.
 
The prototype on display at the toy fair drew press, including stories on CNBC and in Make magazine, "tons of signups" and interest from Disney for Disneyland locations, reports Rosenfeld.
 
Rosenfeld and Sklar build the kiosks in their quarters at AlphaLab Gear; they are among the first cohort of companies at the hardware and robotics accelerator.
 
Meanwhile, Digital Dream Labs has developed a system that allows children to control videogames by rearranging puzzle pieces. They are ramping up to start production this summer.
 
As grad students at Carnegie Mellon's Entertainment Technology Center, Peter Kinney, Justin Sabo and Matt Stewart collaborated on an interactive exhibit for the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh. The dreamTableTop is still in use in Pittsburgh, and the company has since produced three more for other children’s museums.
 
When they launched their company in 2012 and pitched to AlphaLab, the advice they received was that they needed to broaden their market. Drawing on the museum exhibit, Digital Dream Labs created its Ludos system -- a plastic tray that connects to a computer or device, 22 toy blocks and game software.
 
When Ludos starts shipping in late summer, it will be bundled with "Cork the Volcano," a game aimed at children six-and-older that teaches logic and sequencing. Other games for kids as young as four are in development.
 
Stewart says the company has a healthy number of pre-orders and several promising large contracts thanks to the toy show. The company currently employs four people (the three co-founders and artist Aaron Clark, a recent graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh) and Stewart says the goal is to quadruple in-house staff by the end of 2015. Digital Dream Labs has outgrown its digs at AlphaLab and is looking for expanded space in Pittsburgh.

This piece originally appeared in our sister publication, Keystone Edge on Feb. 27.

Astrobotic a frontrunner in the Olympic-like race to the moon for the Google Lunar XPRIZE

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic remains firmly among the frontrunners in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, a race to the moon that is beginning to resemble an Olympic-style event.
 
The deadline to complete the lunar mission is October 2015. The first to the finish line wins a $30 million purse.
 
The Strip District robotics firm, a CMU spinout, has been a serious contender since the competition was announced in 2007. The XPRIZE pits university scientists from around the world against one another in a mission that involves creating the hardware and software to land on the moon, explore the lunar surface and relay high-definition footage back to Earth.
 
The idea behind the contest is to inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of space exploration. But the sheer cost of the race itself has proved a hurdle for many.
 
“Most people are putting us on top of the rankings,” says John Thornton, CEO, who stopped short of predicting an outright win.
 
Thornton has been instrumental in growing the business side of Astrobotic, especially its payload to the moon business as a way to raise the money to win the money and, of course, the prestige that goes with it.
 
This month Astrobotic picked up $1.75 million as one of five finalists in the Google Lunar XPRIZE Milestone Prize, an award created to recognize the teams that have completed several of the objectives so far, technology for landing, mobility and imaging the mission.
 
Of the five teams selected, Astrobotic and Moon Express (Silicon Valley) were the only two to earn the cash award in all three categories. The other three milestone winners were Hakuto (Japan), Part-Time Scientists (Germany) and Team Indus (India).
 
Earlier this month, Astrobotic cut a deal with Astroscale in Singapore to transport the popular Asian sports drink, Pocari Sweat, to the lunar surface. It will be the first commercial beverage to touch down on the moon, says Thornton.
 
“For us, this is just like any other payload that we will fly to the moon,” he says. “That’s our business strategy, to carry payloads.”
 
Astrobotic plans to launch a robotic lander and rover aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in October 2015, exact date to be determined, for a four-day flight to the moon.
 
While the mission will be monitored from the space center, scientists from CMU will control the rover.
 
Astrobotic employs 12 and operates out of a warehouse in the Strip District, next to the Opera House, and plans to add another 5,200 square feet for a total of 8,000 square feet.
 
“We’ve come a long way,” says Thornton.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: John Thornton, Astrobotic

Meet the new Thrill Mill companies

Big data tools that identify the college courses you need to land your first job. A better dual-laptop. An online music site that wants to be the Craigslist of music.
 
These are among the 13 new startups that moved in to Thrill Mill’s accelerator space this month, full of promise and big entrepreneurial ideas.

Thrill Mill CEO Bobby Zappala couldn’t be more excited about the new group.
 
“The idea is for this to be a growing community, not one that turns over,” says Zappala. “Eventually we want to create an alumni hall so anyone can pop your head in anytime. It keeps the energy going in the space.”
Meet the teams:
 
Because is a third party commenting system for online media sites that encourages civil and on-topic conversations. Two Pittsburgh brothers, Nick and TJ Santillo, are behind the idea.
 
BricoMama wants to be the place where property owners and contractors find labor that meets the parameters of any job. The platform is geared toward both the contractor and consumers, allowing both to input what each are looking for and locate the best person for the job.
 
Campusbuck.com is a web and mobile-based promotional marketing solution for small business owners in college towns, like ours, in helping them to connect with and offer vouchers to the student community. Two MBA grads from IUP are behind the startup, which has already begun to generate revenue.
 
CCChampions is a nonprofit that gives children with cancer an opportunity to meet and develop friendships with professional athletes. The platform, developed by Sidney Kushar, was launched nationally in Pittsburgh in 2013 through the Steelers and the Pirates. So far it has served more than 300 kids.
 
Fittsburgh wants to make Pittsburgh a healthy place to live. Brothers Joe and Anthony Vennare have created a sustainable model that allows people to take care of themselves, from box lunches to corporations.
 
Kreide, founded by Stephanie Kunkel and Katie Imler, provides NCAA member institutions with educational compliance materials. The idea is to navigate the complexities of the system to help athletic staff and athletes in navigating the rules and preventing infractions.
 
LUV Water is creating a self-sustainable, sophisticated water purification device that uses UV LEDs to clean the water.
 
Smart tools from MedZen want to make the electronic compliance system for primary care physicians more user-friendly. The idea is to reduce the burden of documentation while ensuring compliance, reducing overhead, improving efficiency and enhancing the quality of doctor-patient interaction.
 
MeshNet is designing a big data platform that will optimize the interaction between students, educators, and employers and help people (especially students) use software to navigate and make better life decisions such as what courses to take to land a job.
 
Conceived by a group of Pitt grads, it won the Pitt Big Idea Competition and was the grand-prize winner in the most recent Business Bout.
 
MIX is developing a specialty salad restaurant concept for the East Liberty area. The idea is to create a creative dining experience focused on providing access to fast and health-conscious meal options.
 
PittsburghBeats.com wants to be the craigslist of music. Developed by Solomon Ilochi, a Duquesne freshman, it’s an online music distribution company that specializes in the promotion of local talent. Users may sign up, upload, share, and eventually sell their works. Users will also be able to create custom merchandise and sell tickets to their shows.
 
Portal offers premier hardware solutions through the creation of a dual laptop, an attachable mobile workstation that provides additional USB ports, extending battery life and adds an equally sized secondary screen that can be conveniently hidden while not in use.
 
TameraOnline, being developed by Tamera Szijarto, a native of the Philippines who is attending Katz Business School, is looking to build a scalable model to bring cosmetic products to the international marketplace.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Bobby Zappala, Thrill Mill

Duolingo lands $20 million. Named best ed app in the world by TechCrunch.

Language learning startup Duolingo remains on a winning streak with the announcement of millions in venture funding and another big award.
 
The Pittsburgh company landed its largest investment to date, $20 million, and received a 2013 “Crunchie” as the best education app in the world from TechCrunch. Founder and CEO, Luis von Ahn, generally a low kind of guy, expressed his elation.
 
“It’s pretty rare to see (Crunchie) winners that are not based in Silicon Valley,” says von Ahn. “We’re proud of the fact we won and we’re not that.”
 
TechCrunch touted Duolingo for its ability to teach real language skills through mobile tech in a “gamified” and fun way. The app currently is 20 million users strong and growing.
 
“There are more people learning a language on Duolingo than in the whole U.S. school system,” says von Ahn, who estimates that number at eight million.
 
The funding round was lead by Silicon Valley venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Duolingo has previously raised $3.3 million lead by Union Square in 2011 and a $15 million round lead by NEA. Ashton Kutcher and author Tim Ferriss are also investors.
 
Big hiring will take place this year, von Ahn adds. Duolingo will add 16 to its staff of 34 people. It will also begin developing a language certification app that will allow users to take a standardized language test on their smartphone for only $20. Language certification standardized tests usually cost hundreds of dollar, he says.
 
Last December Duolingo was named iPhone App of the Year by Apple. The app owes its design and original concept to von Ahn and his CMU student, Severin Hacker.
 
Duolingo works by leading users through lessons and programs using fun games and exercises. As users translate web phrases, both by reading and listening to the language spoken by native speakers, they assist with the translation of web content, a concept known as crowdsourcing.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Luis von Ahn, Duolingo

CMU unveils some of the hottest new disruptive technologies in health care

Disruptive isn’t usually a word uttered in the same sentence as good health, but many of the promising new technologies in the health care industry are just that.
 
CMU hosted a day-long conference last week, the third annual Innovation in Health Care Technology Conference, a gathering of health care industry leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators in Pittsburgh who shared what they’re doing to disrupt and transform health care.
 
Experts presented sophisticated solutions that address the growing needs of the industry. Among those in attendance were Body Media (now Jawbone), Omnyx, Rinovum Women’s Health, Cognition Therapeutics, Highmark and Mylan.
 
“If ever there was an industry in need of disruption, it is the health care industry,” says Lynn Banaszak Brusco, executive director of the Disruptive Health Technology Institute at CMU. “Disruptive innovation, based on advances in science and engineering, has already brought lower-cost, quality products to a variety of industries, but health care has not experienced this pioneering drive — until now.”
 
The conference sessions reinforced that the region is worldwide leader for creative ideas that will improve healthcare for patients and the community in the future, she adds.  
 
“The CMU Disruptive Health Technology Institute is working to bring the same disruption to health care. We are researching and deploying new technologies to help reduce health care costs and improve outcomes for patients.”
 
Among the newer companies on hand was South Side-based Proximedics, providers of USB-powered RFID (radio frequency identification) readers that work in tandem with a customized web application, providing clinics and hospitals with solutions for everything from inventory management to device regulation.
 
Presenters included several research projects that are still in development. Body Explorer is a new medical training simulator for educating medical professionals from the University of Pittsburgh's Simulation and Medical Technology R&D Center.

Medical Robotics Technology Center at CMU's Robotics Institute is working on a flexible needle steering system for minimally invasive navigation in the brain.

CMU’s BioPharma and Healthcare Club, a joint graduate student organization of the H. John Heinz III College and Tepper School of Business, hosted the event.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Lynn Brusco, CMU
 
 

Emodt co-founder reflects on emotional technology and the Oscar movie nominee Her

In the future, might our emotional well-being depend on our relationships with an operating system like the one in the Oscar-nominated movie Her? 
 
Pittsburgh startup Emodt suggests the concept is not as far-fetched or as far away as one might think. Just as digital technology like GPS helps us when we’re lost, this mobile digital platform helps people better understand and guide their emotional state through such issues as stress, insomnia, and depression.
 
Emodt (as in emote) is being developed by a small team in Pittsburgh under the direction of co-founder Dr. Matthew Keener, a translational neuroscientist and innovator who offered insights on the concept during a TEDx talk here last year. 
 
Another of Emodt’s cofounders is Johannes Eichstaedt, a Penn researcher and founder of the World Well-Being Project. Keener offers these thoughts on technology’s role in the future of therapy. 
 
How does Emodt work? 
 
It’s a software platform that works as an app and software package across several devices. 
The platform allows people to keep track of their emotional life and see how they’re improving through a suite of tools on their smartphone, supported by wearing a simple device that captures emotion-related information. 
 
Much like the software Lumosity provides specific exercises that help improve people’s cognitive skills, Emodt has programs that help people with their emotional performance. Users then get feedback on how they’re doing on a wide range of areas along with evidence-based strategies. For instance someone with sleep difficulties would be prompted around nighttime routines with things like a meditation drill. 
 
Interesting. So will technology one day replace therapy or is the idea to supplement it?
 
Well, keep in mind that technology is defined simply as the use of science toward solving real world problems. So technology has always been an element of providing emotional help and can be as simple as using pen and paper.
 
We are currently partnering with companies that have completely self-administered computerized therapies like CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) but we’re also working on software people would use in conjunction with therapists. 
 
What’s your time frame for when this will this be released?
 
Right now we’re still testing the platform in a series of beta trials but we’re excited that we’ll be making elements available through selected partners this year.
 
So did you find the movie Her at all realistic?  
 
Yes, I think it’s surprisingly realistic as far as what may be coming quite soon. 
Although the movie depicts artificial intelligence as a partial replacement for human relationships, I think it’s more likely that we’ll see the development of technologies working in the background as a support system, rather than a substitute for human connection with others or oneself. 
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Matt Keener, Emodt
 

Looking for a job in tech or IT? What you need is your own personal talent agent

Job seekers are demanding a revolution when it comes to finding the next great job, says Eric Harvey. So who wouldn’t want their own personal agent to lead the charge?
 
Harvey is founder and CEO of YourTalentAgents.com, a startup that wants to be the eHarmony of the job world, matching specific job seekers with employers through recruiters. 
 
YTA works with what he calls “the passive segment” of the job-seeking population, those with careers in engineering and IT who tend to not take an aggressive approach when seeking a career move.  
 
Recruiting companies cater to the 20 percent of job seekers who are actively seeking employment, says Harvey. The other 80 percent, those who are more laid back in their career approach, tend to be overlooked.
 
“The beauty of our model is we give them (passive seekers) a voice and a vision,” he says. “It allows them to passively look for a job without dealing with the hassle of recruiters, phone calls and emails.
 
“The magic of our system is we are building technology that improves their experience,” he adds. “In the future, everyone will have a personal talent agent.” 
 
YTA is starting small and focusing initially on Pittsburgh companies and jobs. The platform targets those looking to work in the tech space—engineers and IT people. As it rolls out, YTA will be replicated in other markets for other professions.
 
The company has offices in the Riverside Center for Innovation and has a team of 20 talent agents, including interns and volunteers.
 
“The cool thing for us is the general population will have someone dedicated to their career search from cradle to grave,” he says. “It will demystify the job search.”
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Eric Harvey, YTA
 

BlueBelt Technologies blasts off with successful robotic tools for bone surgery

BlueBelt Technologies, a Strip District developer of handheld robotic tools that are improving outcomes for bone surgery patients, is preparing for major growth.

As a company, BlueBelt straddles two cities. The corporate headquarters is in Minneapolis, where manufacturing takes place; the research and development is done in the Strip District. The company employs 65 and expects to hire another 20 this year.

The first product was launched commercially in 2013, the Navio, a handheld robotic tool that gives surgeons greater flexibility in performing partial knee replacement surgeries. Not only does the tool reduce the size of the incision, but it’s so precise that doctors are successful using using it in outpatient facilities, allowing patients to go home the same day, says Eric Timko, CEO.

A Carnegie Mellon spinout, BlueBelt was founded in 2003 by co-founders Dr. Anthony DiGioia, Dr. Branislav Jaramaz, and Craig Markovitz, pioneers in computer-assisted orthopedic surgery. Markovitz was recently rehired as company general manager.

Unlike freestanding robotic tools, the Navio is a handheld tool that eliminates the need for multiple instruments during surgery, makes more precise incisions and reduces overall surgery time and the risk to patients, says Timko.

“We are the happy medium doctors have been looking for,” he adds. “They (doctors) all want the accuracy and consistency of robotics, but they don’t want to be replaced. The surgeon drives the robot, the robot doesn’t drive the surgeon.”

The Stride, a knee implant, was launched in the fall of 2013. “It takes the anatomy of the patient into consideration,” Timko says. “It’s designed to fit better and comes in extended sizes that make it a better opportunity for the patient.”

Both devices are currently being used in hospitals across the country and locally at Magee Women’s Hospital of UPMC.

Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Eric Timko, BlueBelt Technologies
 
 

Meet the new Alpha Lab startups for 2014

Twice a year, Innovation Works opens its doors and rolls up its sleeves to a group of promising entrepreneurs who receive $25,000 in funding, hands-on guidance from industry mentors and free office space from which to work on the South Side.
 
What a difference 20 weeks can make in the growth of these fledging companies.
 
Since the program’s introduction, many startups have not only gone on to succeed, but some have achieved celebrity startup status. Among the alumni are The Resumator (giving the President Obama and candidate Mitt Romney an assist during the presidential campaign) Black Locus (acquired by Home Depot) and NoWait (the casual restaurant app that recently launched nationwide).
 
This latest group is working in a new universe of technology and markets that have yet to be addressed by a company to date, says Terri Glueck of IW.
 
Meet the first AlphaLab class of 2014:
 
While technology is taking off for the average user, the blind and visual impaired don’t have the same accessibility to tools to improve their quality of life. Conversant Labs is developing consumer apps for visually impaired people using voice-enabled mobile applications.
 
INKTD wants to put an end to no-show appointments and scheduling problems. This cloud-based, social scheduling platform is especially designed for tattoo shops and artists.
 
Jetpack Workflow is developing a cloud-based application that can automate and manage business tasks that workers tend to do over and over again. Especially designed for services such as accounting and bookkeeping, the tool will work to provide client context and track staff progress so firms can manage client expectations and increase billable hours. 

Next Gauge is creating smart-device-based systems for small and mid-size businesses for their mobile workforces. The systems are designed to improve productivity, enhance communication and reduce costs. Solutions are currently being targeted to address the needs of commercial fleets and field services industries.
 
Tailored Fit is a shopping website that becomes your personal shopper, learning what you like and picking out clothes you’ll love. Think of it as a style guide in the way Pandora connects the dots with your musical taste.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Innovation Works
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